The Thalassic Thaumaturge: The Task To Trap Them.
The trawler — The Tern — tacks, trying to turn through the tempest. Toward the Togiakan taiga the transport trails, tossing, turning too. Tall, thick tides thump the torso, the taupe timber tended to tolerate this torture — though the tough, thoughtless tundra temperature threatens to tear the tub til the Tern topples, til the tensed, trimmed topsail turns to tatters.
“Time?” thunders Third Technician Thomas Tennyson.
“Three,” tuts Timekeeper Terrence T. Taylor: typically timid, today thrilled. Taylor twirls the tin, Turkish timepiece towards the taffrail. “Timetable tallies Togiaka to two. Technician, the Tern’s tyned.”
Terror takes Tennyson. “Tomfoolery! The — the tachometer!”
“The tether tore, taking the tachometer to Triton’s temple. The thrust twin to the tide that took Tilly.” Tactless Taylor turns. “Turner, Townsend too. The team’s there, the thalassic trenches. This talk’s tête-à-tête, thee to Taylor. Tender truces to the traitors, the traducers—type thorny, terse telegrams, tracing the titles, translating the theistic texts. Trust that they tarry — the Tern’s time’s temporary, transient. Thine’s too. Tick tock.”
Tears trickle. They think of their territory, turned taking through their toil, thieved today through this tsunami. “Though the Tern’s torpid, the turbine’s throttled tall, the topsail tilted towards Togiaka. The trouble, then?” they taunt, tumultuous, terrified, their tirade towards the typhoon. “The titanium technology’s tarnished? The textile threads tangled?”
“Tholes torn too,” testifies the timekeeper. “Time to tope?”
“That’s true. Tragic that there’s tentacles, though.”
“Titanic things, too.”
They twitch, tensing. “Then…the tide’s trivial! The thaumaturge’s the true trouble! Towards the transom, timeously!”
The Tern’s tonnage turned, tumultuous: televisions, telephones, tablets, trophies, tubas, trombones, trumpets, tuxedoes, turtlenecks, tweed, toques, tables, towels, teaspoons, toothpicks, trout, tuna, topaz, tires. The two tiptoe through the trunk, traversing the trashed, torn, tunnel-type tanks. “The thaumaturge’s…tricky. Tied to transport, though. The Togiakan technical/thaumaturgical team’s thirsty to tabulate their traits, their techniques. The Tern took their treasure to take them to Togiaka, though…they thought to tarry telling thee til then,” Tennyson tergiversates, “til the thaumaturge transferred to the Togiakan team’s turf.”
“The tactics transparently thin, true?”
“Too tardily. The thaumaturge’s terminating the Tern—their thaumaturgic tentacles trashing the tail, their teal thunderbolts terrible. They took Tilly, Turner, Townsend. The Tern trusted those tactics-” Taylor’s tongue turns trenchant- “that teended them today.”
Tennyson, the turnkey, teeters, toeing the threshold. “The thaumaturge’s trammeled to transport. Tricky to talk to. Take the threaded ties, the twined trusses — tolerate them to travel topside, they’ll turn the turbulent tide tranquil. Trust that, Taylor.”
The tumblers twirl, ticking through two turns. Taylor traverses the threshold, trepidatious, the torch they take trembling. “Talk!” they thunder. “Talk, treacherous thaumaturge! Terminate the tyrannical tentacles that trap the Tern!” Troublesome tranquility. “Tongue-tied? Taciturn? Thy time’s transient—thy tentacles’ll throttle thee too.”
“Thy threnody’s trying,” taunts Tobias Tsardi, thaumaturge. “Take the ties, then talk.”
Taylor tsks. “Thou’re tied, trussed—thou tries temptations? Tommyrot. Tell thy tentacles, thy thaumaturgy to turn tail. Then the ties.”
Thick threads tie Tsardi’s torso, though they’re temperate. “Thou transgressed,” they tell Taylor. “Thou troubled the transcendent Tobias Tsardi: the Tremendous, the Terrible, the Triumphant, the Tenacious, the titled, Tsar-treasured thaumaturge. Thou tries threats?” they travesty. “Thou tries to take thaumaturgy to thine tenancy?” The ties trammeling Tsardi twinkle, then the thaumaturgy triturates them. “Today, the tides turned.”
“…t-thaumaturge?” titubates Taylor, timorous. “Those threads…they’re thick, tough. To tear them..."
“Trifling.” Taylor trembles. Tsardi’s teal thaumaturgy tessellates through the trunk: terrifying, timeworn though timeless, tainted through turpitude. “Thou transgressed,” they tell them, twice this time. “Thou tempted Tobias Tsardi to tempestuous turmoil. Thus, the Tern’s torn, trampled to trailings. Together, thou’re thoroughly terminated.”
“True. The three: Taylor, Tennyson, Tsardi, trapped. The Tern, tearing, travailing thy tombstone.”
The terrible, titanic tides thunder. The Tern trembles, then topples, the timber torn to tatters. The tide takes the trawler, the tormented thaumaturge tardily, though truly, triumphant.
The Tern: Topic Two
The Tern toppled, though the Togiakan technical team took time to track the trawler, to think the task too troubling to task to three trawlers’ teams. Three? True. The Tern toppled, the Trident tarried, traveling temperately to Togiaka; the Talon tore through the tide, the Togiakan team transiting too, to the thought tract the Tern’d traveled through.
Twilight tarnishes, the tenebrous tide turning turquoise. “Ten-thirty,” ticks the technical, tarnished, tin timepiece, the Talon terminating the trip. Timber trailings thump the Talon, teal, tessellating thaumaturgy transfused through the tailings. Thermic tracking tells the team thaumaturgic tentacles tarry, thinking, threatening the Talon’s tutelage through the Tern’s trailings, taking tranquilly the threat the terrene, thrice-topsailed transport, thorny, the Togiakan team toting tumultuous tempers, tenders towards the thaumaturge’s tides.
The truce ’tween the technological, the thaumaturgical thin today.
The Togiakan team: ten technicians, theologians, theoreticians, testers. Tiffany Thorkel-Tiptree, top-ten toxicologist; Tamar Trenton Thrombley, theanthropic theologian; Tabitha Torres, theoretical topologist; Theodore T.T. Trask, thermochemist; Thalia Testarossa, trade/tariff transaction tester; Tina Torbjörn Thorsdöttir, technician; Talfryn Titus the Third, technician; Tien Trevestas, trustee; Timothy Trofimenko, theistic theologian; Tochiro Tomaki, top-tier typist. “To terminals,” Tina tells their team. “Talk to Talfryn to tally the Tern’s team, to trap that troublesome thaumaturge.”
“Tsardi tied to the Tern’s trunk though, true?” tries Tamar. “Thus trapped there, the Tern’s tombstone, the thalassic trenches. The Tern trapped the thaumaturge.”
“Then…the Tern toppled. Tsardi too, though?”
“Theoretically.” Tina tuts, troubled. “Thou’re the theologian. Timothy, too — they try thy tolerance, though. Theoretically, the theory’s tenable that Tsardi’s thaumaturgy tempts them to transhuman tenacity, true?
Tamar thinks through the topic. “The (taboo) thaumaturges’ tome thinks true. The trusty, traditional, though truly Triassic, theology textbook takes trouble to the total tetralemma: the tome, the thaumaturges, the topic, the — that transhuman tenacity. Typical tiff ’twixt the two.”
“Thee? The tome’s true?” The timepiece ticks twice. “The textbook’s true?”
Tamar ticks their tongue, thinking. “Trust the tome.”
“Terrific.” Tina turns to Talfryn, toting the tallies. They’re tall, tan, trendy, trained to take tallies through Tokyo. “Togiaka’s transmitted telegrams, Talfryn? Thought the tycoons trusted the Talon.”
“They’re trustees,” The teased Tien talks timorously treble. “Tycoons, tacit trusts — they’re terrible. Trustees transcend treasure’s turpitude, take the Togiakan team’s technical, thaumaturgical tabs. Thy taunting’s trying—try thanking them.”
“Telling that thee’d talk that, true?” taunts Talfryn. “That’s trivial, though. The technical team there’s tallied the Tern’s trailings, their tragically taken team: Tilly Twinn, twice-tributed titleholder, Ted Turner, Thompson Townsend, technician Thomas Tennyson, timekeeper Terrence Taylor. They’re trying to track Tsardi, though...their tactics — they’re thorough, true, though too thin.” Tina tuts. “The Tern’s tonnage too,” Talfryn tags to the testimony, turning tack. “There’s transistors, Tiger-type teleprinters, trackballs, thermal templates: telecommunication things, that’s the tank there. There, there’s the tuneful things: trumpets, tenor trombones, tubas, tritone-”
“Thanks, that’s tolerably thorough.” Tina’s transpicuously troubled, turns to the taffrail. “Thy toppled thyself, thaumaturge,” Tina tells the tide through Texan twang. “Thy turned the Tern to thy tombstone to terminate thy transgressions triumphantly. Thus, therefore…thou temporize, true, though thou’re trapped. Trammeled through the Talon, though thee took the Tern.”
Though the tide’s tranquil, Tina thinks that tranquility taunts them, tantamount to threats. “Thaumaturge!” they thunder, tense, tumultuous. The Togiakan team turns, taut, troubled through Tina’s tantrum. “Talk, thy tricky, treacherous, thunderstorm-throwing thaumaturge! Testify, trot through thy tentacle-transfused tide — the Talon’s the target, thus thrust, take trompement, threatened through the tierce. Take the trustworthy tussle, thou turncoat thaumaturge.”
“That transitory, tricky thaumaturge’s tiring,” Tina tells Tamar. “They took the Tern — today they’re tucked to the tide, turning taciturn tail to the threats the Talon thunders to the tides. They’ll take their time. The thought to trustworthy, tethered tussle, tête-à-tête ’tween them-”
“To thee. Thou thinks that’ll terminate to the Talon’s trade — trammeling the thaumaturge, taking them to Togiaka to truly, technically tally, true? Thou’re trained to take that thaumaturge through this terminal…tiff? Tussle?” they try. “The true ’t’ term’s tricky. Thus thou trusts that?”
“True. The thing’s-” Thick tentacles tear towards the Talon, tethering the transport tightly to the trenches. Tsardi, teal thaumaturgy twirling through the tides, transfusing the Talon’s timber, treads to the Talon’s top tier. “Tsardi.”
“Technician. Thou traded this thaumaturge to this tussle, true?”
Tina takes the trident, thorny-tined, titanium-tooled though tungsten-tipped. “True. The Talon’s task’s to take thee to Togiaka. Thou tore the Tern to tatters, though the Talon’s tougher. Thus, this theater: Try thy tenacity. Terminate thy trying to turn tail. Therefore-”
“Take thy toxin,” twitters Tiffany (the typically thoughtless toxicologist).
“Tiffany,” threatens Tina. “Tsardi?”
Their teeth twinkle. “The tussle. The Tern’s team thought they’d tolerable tactics to take Tsardi, then…” They thrive through their triumph. “That trident’s threatening, though the top thou’ll take’s tac-au-tac-“
Tobias talks, thinking they’re transparently, troublelessly triumphant. Then Tina’s trident takes their throat. “The Togiakan tasks’s to take thee, trammeled. This, though…” Tina tightens the trident, throttling the trapped thaumaturge. “The tractable thunderstorms, tides thou took the Tern through? They take thee today.”
The (true) terminus.
Speak Ill of the Dying
Dear Mr. Kadrey,
I am deeply sorry to hear of your illness. This is terrible news. Our families have worked together since the days of our grandfathers, and from our efforts the firm has grown into a nationwide endeavor. And now, to have one of the names engraved prominently on every door without an heir to carry on the work? Even now, even with everything I have been told, I still pray for your swift and full recovery.
However, I must admit that this letter concerns more than my condolences. The disease you have contracted is extremely rare, and, per your own admittance, will soon destroy your mental faculties. It pains me to write this, dear friend, but I must take full ownership of the company before that happens, before you may be driven, in a virus-riddled fugue, to make decisions that will destroy us both. I have already written to the Board, and suspect they will agree with me.
Truth be told, Theodore, I had been planning this move for quite some time, although I did not expect my fortunes to change so quickly. Though I respect you as an associate, you were always too hesitant, too concerned with third- or fourth- or fifth-degree ramifications of expanding that you have probably cost the both of us several million dollars, and for what? The well-being of a planet a hundred years from now that you will certainly never live to see?
I am sorry it came to this, but I believe also that it is for the best.
This is really it, huh? After all those years of rainy, mudslide-filled hiking trips through places literally called “No Return”, it’s a disease that gets you? I’d call it irony, except I think my English professor wouldn’t agree with that.
Well. He would, if I had an English professor.
I mean, there’s probably no point in hiding it anymore, right? Not if you’re dying. Don’t think you could write me out of the will anyways, not if the virus really does what you said. You’ve been sending me money so that I could attend college, but I haven’t been. Not for two years now. Got expelled on a—technicality, doesn’t matter—but I never could tell you. You’d have cut me off, left me without your money halfway around the world and hardly speaking the language.
I can tell you now, at least. So that you know the truth about your own family before you die. Not a nice truth, no, but it’s not one you can change, not anymore.
Love, your son,
We’ve never liked each other. Good riddance.
A former friend
I will not be coming to visit you. So now is the time to say everything I’ve wanted to say all these years. Politeness and the sickening bubble of ‘family unity’ has always stopped me, until now. Won’t have a family to be unified much longer, will we?
Let’s not mince words. I hated you. You were always the favorite child—of Dad, of Mom, of the media who would fawn over you and forget I even existed—and for what? You weren’t smarter, or more charismatic, or a better businessman. Failing upwards until you reached the top, and stuck in the world’s throat.
But now, you will be dead, and it will be my turn to define what it means to be a Kadrey. The first thing I’ll do is destroy everything you’ve built—with my sole remaining claim to the inheritance, without your lawyers, and up against your rat bastard of an associate Kennard, it will be nothing more than trivial to snap your company in half and let the vultures fight among the pieces. Then it’ll be your turn. I know you’ve left me the house and all your papers, and I don’t doubt there will be more than enough to embellish, to rip and stitch together until all the world remembers you for is the shocking mediocrity of the man they once revered..
I hope you know how much fun this is going to be.
Your erstwhile brother,
One month ago, I sent out a missive detailing that I was dying from a rare neurological virus. I told you that I had hidden it, kept it secret in order to maintain an outwards appearance of strength and stability, but that it was pointless to hide it any longer. I suspected many of you knew already of my illness, just not of its severity. But now, as so many of you have come clean to me, I shall come clean to you:
My secret was never that I was dying.
My secret was that I will live.
In fact, I knew that I would survive long before I sent each of you that communication. And I must say, your answers have been truly informative, not to mention revealing. You seek to use my death to advance yourselves, or to escape retribution. I will not delve into details here. Each of you knows what they sent me, and many of you are no doubt regretting what you thought would be your final communication with me.
Tomorrow, I will begin arrangements with my legal and financial team. Today, I have just one message for all of you:
Go to hell. Preferably before I do.
The Radio Operator’s Guide to the Apocalypse
1. There are seven days left. If there are not, then you were never meant to find this. Treat the words that follow as mere fiction, and hope that you never have to use them.
2. Tell nobody of what you know. Do not speak the words aloud, even if you think you’re alone. You’re not.
3. Before going into work, you must first visit the radio towers. Make sure your phone is fully charged, and bring a paper map with you. Take anything that is of particular value to you—you will need it for bargaining, later.
4. To get there, drive. If you do not have a car, borrow somebody’s, and do not take ‘no’ for an answer. Public transportation is too dangerous, especially at this stage. The Others have already taken their control.
5. As you drive, you will hear a piano through the radio. Nobody is playing it.
6. When you enter the mountains, follow your map to the meter. If it changes, and it will, continue to follow it exactly. Even if you have taken this trip a hundred times before, you are entering territory you know nothing about. Be careful.
7. There will be a man waiting for you next to the towers. He will be dressed as a mechanic, except for the patch on his shoulder.
8. A black patch means that you have already failed. I am sorry. Return home, if you can, with the days you have.
9. If there is a red patch, approach him and offer to shake his hand. You must be the one to make this offer. He is susceptible to formality, and by doing so, you have gained the right to ask him one question.
10. Ask him what is wrong with the towers. He will tell you.
11. When you look away, he will be gone, but his toolbox will remain. Use it to fix the towers. Don’t fall.
12. Once you have fixed the towers, return to your studio. Do not go home. You will not be able to go home again.
13. Enter through a side door. The Others will be watching the front and the back. Lock the door behind you, especially if it does not have a lock.
14. Do not speak to your co-workers. Not yet. If they try to ask you a question, avoid any and all eye contact. They may be Other.
15. At your console, turn the frequency of the radio down, until it reaches 9 Hz. When you reach 1 kHz, the dial will begin to fight you. Fight back.
16. Once you have reached 9 Hz, turn the radio on and speak into your microphone for five minutes. At no point should you stop speaking for more than a second, nor should you turn around. There is nothing to see.
17. After five minutes, any Others in the building will have left. They do not like low frequencies. Return to your co-workers, and only then may you tell them what you know. Each of them will have a guide, too.
18. For the next 156 hours, keep your radio show going:
a. You will not need food or water. Fixing the towers has seen to that.
b. Be sincere, and speak of more good than bad. Your audience will be composed of more than you can fathom.
c. At 7 AM each day, change your frequency to 1500 kHz, and at 7 PM, return it to 9 Hz. This will ensure your words reach everybody they are meant to.
d. Music (preferably Beethoven) should be playing in the background. If transmission ever ceases, you will not survive the next minute.
e. When you accept calls, and you must, do not answer immediately. Instead, hold the phone at arms-length, and ask them—clearly and without stuttering—if they know what time it is. If they answer, they are human.
f. On the third day, there will be a knock at the door. It will be the man from the mountains. He will tell you that the towers are broken again, and that you need to come and fix them.
g. Do not listen. One of your coworkers will volunteer to go with him, for their guide tells them to. Say goodbye, and do not feel guilty. The mechanic deals only in trades, and what is one life measured against many?
h. On the fourth day, the lights will go off. On the fifth day, they will turn back on. When they do, one of the Other will have entered the building. They will wear the face of another of your companions.
i. They will seek you out. If you have followed the instructions up to this point, you should have brought possessions that are worth much to you. Leave your station and bring one to the fuse box.
j. There will be a loose wire, throwing sparks onto the ground. Press your object against the wire and close your eyes. You will feel a fuzziness in your head—do not worry.
k. When the world returns, the object will be scorched and unrecognizable. You have successfully extended your life to the end of the world.
l. Make sure your listeners enjoy the show. You are, after all, their host.
19. At 9 PM on the final day, bid farewell. Tell those who are still listening to sleep well, and to dream of a better tomorrow. They deserve it.
20. Open the door. There will be an Other waiting for you there. There is no reason to fear them, not anymore.
21. You must thank them for allowing you to continue the show. They will compliment you for your commitment, but you will decline it. Accepting anything, even words of praise, will put you in their debt.
22. There will be no sun in the sky, nor will there be stars. Do not look for them.
23. Everything has been set in motion. Climb to the roof of your studio, where your dish resides. That will be where you wait out the final hours.
24. If you wish, write your name on the metal. A fountain pen and inkwell will already be waiting for you, but do not take them. They are not yours, and their owner will be displeased if she finds them missing.
25. At midnight, the Others will decide. You have given them your words, transmitted through the bones of your planet. All you can do now is hope they are enough.
All the Good Ones Argon
What kind of jacket is the most protective in a chemistry lab?
You might think it's a lab coat, but it's actually a fume hoodie.
You can see yourself in brown eyes. The old saying about gazing into the abyss, except that the void staring back is so much deeper than you could imagine, a burnt, polished copper flecked in gold. Your reflection, glimmering in the light, the edges of a smile crinkled on one side and the beginning of tears on the other.
For that is the gift. Eyes of green or blue may be windows into the soul, stained glass through which the self may filter; brown is the soul itself, raw and real and human. Brown is the universe, the vast gulfs of space that let such brilliant lights shine, the solution to Olbers' paradox that lets us look up at the stars and wonder.
Brown eyes are human, and it is what makes them beautiful.
Click. Click. Click.
“Why do you take so many photographs?” the man asks, the bright streak through his hair perfect for capturing the light. A leading line, directing eyes down to his own, hidden behind their shades. “Can’t you just let people be?”
Shutter snaps. Apertures narrowing and widening as shadows fall across it. Lens cap tossed, abandoned on the ground beneath the endless, repeating sounds of the camera. “I’m not disturbing anyone,” the photographer answers, still and unmoving. Each passer-by immortalized, forever, in the pixels.
A photograph, an image, is a slice of time. A single fraction of a second, a moment gone - right there, then, there’s hundreds gone as they blur together in the facade called life. Plucked away, frozen in the memory of the camera, with each slight press of the button, with each blink of the LED lights at its front. And saved, for just the right time.
“You’re not,” he admits, “but they don’t like it. They don’t know what you’ll do with them.”
For each snapshot is a slice of that life, and slices draw blood. Sometimes they’re harmless, a small cut to be plastered over and forgotten. Sometimes they pierce deeper. They’re a knife, a jagged shard of glass to tear people apart from the inside; they’re evidence, laid out in court filings and dry, 12-point-Century font; they’re questions, sins captured on record that cast an angel from heaven.
She lowers the camera at last, flicking back through the images onscreen. “People take pictures all the time. They share them with their friends and family, put them on slideshows. I do nothing different.”
His name is Isaac Blanc, and he has lied seventy-two times. Each is documented, captured on rolls of film and handed over silently, a thousand words of incrimination. “Not pictures like these. Not like you do. How many people hate you for it?”
“I don’t keep count.” The camera hangs heavy around her neck, black plastic and shaped glass. “I don’t tell them to do it. I just make sure they remember.”
“They don’t want to,” he insists, jabbing a finger at her. “People do bad things and it doesn’t matter, and it falls through the cracks. They keep living their life and no one cares, in the end. We don’t have to keep their memories for them.”
Another passerby walks by them, a woman with short hair dyed a brilliant red. Her phone rings, and she raises it to her ear, the tap of ‘Decline Call’ synced with the click of the shutters. “How many times have I been wrong?” she says softly, lowering it from her eye once again. “How many times would it be better not knowing?”
“Maybe sometimes,” he says, reaching down and picking up the lens cap. He could put it back on, cover up the machine beneath and release someone from their penance. “Maybe never. But…how do you know? What pictures were you given that tell you this is right, that make you sure of this?”
Her mouth tightens, falls. “Not pictures. Not like that,” she says, with a tiny shake of her head. “In here. My pictures, my memories. I can’t give them to you, can’t convince you. But I know what they say.” Up comes the camera, a shield to hide her face behind.
Another person. Another lie.
Click. Click. Click.
Before they start, they let me see her, with saline solution still stinging on my arm and a stern warning not to eat anything, cotton patches etching out a design on my shoulders and neck.
She’s never liked the corridors here, finding them too bright and too clean, so she invites me out onto the grass. Not to do anything, but just to lay there, to enjoy the space we fill in each other’s lives without even realizing.
We both know it’s the last time, even if neither of us will say it.
“What’s it like?” she asks me, staring up at a rabbit-shaped cloud and her hands behind her head. Her voice is light, casual, only a slight tremor betraying the unsaid words behind it. Her voice is the disk around a black hole, glowing with a brightness that can’t obscure the vast, empty space behind it. “To know you’ll…stay? That when everybody else is gone, you’ll still be there?”
“I hate it,” I say. “I hate what they’ve done to this, to us, turned it into a publicity stunt. I hate that I’m the only one to do it, that they couldn’t get the funding for two.”
Even without looking, I can see the way her expression struggles, the way she bites her tongue and her eyes sparkle. “Then…why? Why can’t you stay, Sadie? There’s - there’s still time to tell them no, isn’t there?”
We’ve had this conversation too many times, and the answers never change. “Because…I want to do it. There’s so much to see, even now, and…can you imagine what there’ll be ten, twenty, a hundred years later? The advancements we’ll make, the places we’ll go - how can I give that up?”
“You could, if you wanted,” she whispers. “For me.”
I could, if I wanted. They tell me every day - some making it clear it’s only to check off the ‘ethics’ box - that I can back out, that with one word I can make everything stop. “I’m sorry.”
When I make it back to the lab, the attending doctor wipes the tears from my cheeks, giving a stern lecture about the delicate equipment and how water would ruin it. I nod, and I smile for the cameras there. He barely seems to care, flicking through the screens and the numbers that will change me forever seemingly on autopilot.
I don’t matter to them. They all have families, friends, people that intersect with their lives in a thousand different ways to go back to, where I am just a curiosity, a story to tell and forget. Wires burn their way into my eyes and my heart, lacing and weaving together underneath the skin.
Before, they’d told me it would be an upgrade, an improvement. Now, it seems to separate me from everything that makes me human.
LENA: “Vampires can’t cross running water. I’m sure you’ve all heard the stories - from the people who managed to cross the bridge, and the dangerous, frenzied, starving creatures left trapped on the other side.” (show on greenscreen; doesn’t have to be vampires, per se, just scenes from those old medieval tapestries. Who’s going to care?)
THEO: “But Lena, a lot of people don’t live by rivers anymore. What can they do if they suspect a vampire infestation? After all, the stories about how to kill them didn’t quite pan out.” (sounds cheesy)
LENA: (make sure you sell it!) “That’s why we’re here. Vampire Authorities: Maze Plumbing - VAMP, for short - will box any suspected vampires in with an intricate design of pipes carrying fresh, 100% holy (not technically true, but we had a priest bless the city supply, so they can’t sue us if it’s not) water. They won’t know which way to turn once we’re done with them!”
(Greenscreen showing 3-D engineering diagrams of those pipes, weaving in and out of each other. Looks professional, looks cool)
THEO: “And you’re sure this’ll trap those pesky vampires?”
LENA: “Of course it will! It’s been tested in some of the worst vampire infestations in the world (greenscreen changes to map of Eastern Europe, with stakes driven through to represent vampires. Doesn’t work, but looks cool) and given a 100% success rate! (for a given definition of ‘success’, DON’T SAY THAT OUT LOUD)
THEO: “Sounds like the thing for me! And, cheap too! All you pay for is the pipes - much less than those so-called “catchers”, who'll put you in the hole for thousands of dollars.” (greenscreen change? I don’t know what you want me to do here, since we don’t want to put them here + give them advertising space)
LENA: “You don’t even have to worry about the water bill!”
LENA & THEO: (yes, you have to say it in unison. People like it!) “VAMP is here for you, when the stakes are high or you’re finding vampires a real pain in the neck! Call now, at 1-800-826-7473, for a quote free of charge!”
(we promptly run out of advertising money)
“I am not saying that on a real, actual, television screen,” gripes Lena di Biancar, a bundle of not-actually-steel pipes slung over her shoulder. “I don’t care if it just came off the printers, stick it back until it doesn’t make me want to roll my eyes into my head.” She wields the metal rods like clubs, a dark stain smeared on the leftmost a testament to their varied uses.
Alex Olvirsson gives her the type of pleading look normally reserved for failing musicians demanding one last time on stage. “Come on - we’ve got to pick up business somehow, and all of your ideas involved threatening people. Like vampires do!”
“I didn’t threaten to take their blood,” she says with a shrug. “Just that it’d be outside their body.”
“Nobody’s going to give us any money if they think they’re not going to keep their blood!”
She turns to the door, swinging the pipes behind her with such careless abandon that, while they miss Alex by fractions of an inch, they continue past and slam into the wall. The dent there is currently extending their office space by about a cubic foot, completely rent-free, and she mentally adds a few inches to that estimate. “Sorry,” she says, clearly not, “and people will give us money. They’re doing that right now, soon as we get to the site.”
“Only because I talked to them,” she mutters.
Theo is waiting for them in the shade of an abandoned office building, cross around his neck and blueprints spread on the ground. “Alright, I have…good news and bad news,” he starts, giving the impression that the ‘good news’ only exists as a counter to the bad, and it, in fact, would be considered ‘bad’ if not for the presence of the ‘worse’.
“I’ll show you bad news,” Lena smirks, giving the type of smile they’d be contracted to contain if it had fangs. “Have you seen what she wants us to say-?”
“What’s the bad news, Theo?” she asks, pulling her professional tone and shooting a glare at her. It’s less effective than it might be, given the other woman is half a foot taller and carrying their entire metal stock with ease.
His gaze jumps between the two of them before he gives it up, shrugging. “Well. The bad news is we’re not dealing with one. They abandoned this building ’cause the developer didn’t get the light flow he wanted on this side of town, but that made it prime territory for vamps to move in. We’ve got a nest.”
Pipes clatter to the ground. “I’m out.”
“They’re paying us more, though,” he adds. “Ten times the old contract, because there’s…ten times the vamps.”
A drawn-out silence, the reflections off shattered glass throwing dollar signs into her eyes. “I’m…in,” she says uncertainly. “You’re not just saying that-?”
“Means every word,” Alex says, glad it’s at least distracting from her commercial. Even the attendant at the printers told her it felt like ‘a used-car ad at 3 AM’, and three hours later she still doesn’t have a good rejoinder. “Our employers do, anyway, and it’d be a shame to leave them hanging.”
Theo nods, picking up the papers and kicking the pipes back towards Lena, who watches them roll against her foot with mild interest. “We planning an indoor or outdoor installation?”
It’s her decision - it’s always her decision, now, since Lena would only pick the most dangerous option. Outdoors is safer, but if there’s too much floor in the way, it won’t trap them. Indoors is risky, means getting up close and personal, but…for ten times the money, for professional editors or cinematographers- “Inside. I want an hour, no more.”
The windows block out the sun, which seems slightly counterintuitive to their purpose. She hates it, for the sole reason that as the Bearer of the Flashlight™, she has to be in front. The first one to die if the vampires find them, a floor beneath the nest, and all she’ll be remembered for is a startup company still underground and underwater, and a shitty scriptwriting career that got her laughed out of the FedEx.
“It should…be right about here,” Theo says, counting out his steps. “Can I see the flashlight? I think we’re right under them-“ A rustle from above, dust falling from the ceiling- “but it’s a little dark.”
“Dark, huh?” She tosses him the light, wincing as it misses his hands and clatters on the floor. “Sorry.”
Lena pokes at the ceiling above, looking like an annoyed neighbor trying to stop a party upstairs - which, for all anyone knows about vampire nesting habits, could be true. “Feels like the right place.”
“Are you sure?” he asks, peering at the map. “Because it looks like we’re in the superintendent offices, see-“ The diagram is nigh-incomprehensible, with seventeen floors overlaid on top of each other in dashed and dotted and spiked lines. Her animation of overlaid pipes, which she’d tossed in because it looked cool, isn’t a quarter of the maze this is- “but they told us the vamps were in the break room above.”
She frowns. “And that…isn’t above us? It says ‘break’.”
“They said that, yeah, but…when they pointed it out, they said this room,” he says, gesturing to the other side. “But that one doesn’t have any offices beneath it, so it doesn’t fit.”
Still looking up at the ceiling, Lena unslings the hose from her back and tosses it on the ground. Every floor they went up, she complained again about having to unspool it, but abandoned office buildings don’t have running water. “Pretty sure this is the right place, guys.”
“Yeah, but see…if it was over there, we should have taken those stairs. Now we’ll have to go all the way around again.”
“I could call them,” he offers, fumbling for his phone.
“No data here,” she says. One of the downsides of being on the wrong side of town in an abandoned, falling-apart structure, along with literally everything else. “You’re sure they said those rooms?”
Lena whacks first Alex, then Theo (gently) with a pipe. “Guys,” she hisses, “we’re here! This is where we’re supposed to be!”
“How do you know?” he asks with a laugh. “How can you tell if we’re right under a nest of vampires?”
The pipe swings upwards, nearly missing Alex’s face as she gestures through the rafters. Something hisses on the other end, a popping, crackling sound as if she’s just stabbed a radio dish. “’Cause one of them’s looking at us.”
In the darkness, the vampire is nothing more than a blur of fangs, cast in rotating shadows by the light falling from Theo’s hand. It lands on the floor in a tangle of scrabbling limbs, eyes burning holes in the darkness as it wrenches itself to a standing position. The only thing missing is a scare chord, a dramatic zoom on the silhouetted monster.
“Well, it’s been nice,” Theo says weakly. “Lovely idea, terrible execution.”
“No, come on.” She snatches the flashlight before it can roll away, aiming it at the monster as if that will save them. “We’re supposed to deal with this, right? So let’s do it.”
He’s less than convinced. “You…uh, you founded VAMP, why don’t you…show how it’s done, then? A learning experience, right, oh no-“ Not content to ignore them while they talk, the vampire scuttles towards them, leathery wings spreading in the darkness. He screams, kicking dust into the air as he hightails it to the stairs.
Alex backs away, swinging the light back and forth. “Lena?” she calls, her foot catching on the curve of an abandoned pipe. No help there, either. “Anybody?”
Maybe she should have vetted her applicants first, but they seemed trustworthy. Or paid them more, though there’s precious few websites titled “10 Tips for Small Business Owners! One: How Much to Pay Your Employees so They Don't Abandon You During a Vampire Attack…Two: How to Write a Decent Advertisement Script.”
No. She’s studied vampires, and…even if they can’t physically die, they’re fragile. Having no blood leaves their body brittle, like snapping a twig. If the tree had been made of human flesh.
With another hissing scream, it charges, and she’s barely fast enough to snatch a pipe and bat it out of the way. A thousand thoughts battle in her head, most of them panicking in sheer, abject terror, but she ignores them. “Yeah? Too slow!”
A plan. She needs a plan, because it’s faster than her and she can’t dodge forever. They have water, pipes made of rusty iron (but iron only hurts the fae, sometimes), and…a flashlight. Zero percent of it is new, or even quality-tested in the last five years, but it’ll have to do.
On the other side of the vampire lies the hose, ready to spout running water if only she can turn it on. “Well, come on, then,” she taunts, wishing the light didn’t shake quite so much. “You want my blood, right? Gonna have to come and get it!”
Unfortunately, it works.
Somewhere in her mind, she had thought she could run around it, that baiting it would open up more space in the darkness. But it’s simply too fast, red eyes streaking towards her, and - caught in their vengeful headlights - she can’t pick a direction to run. All she can do is hold the pipe in front of her and pray it’s enough.
Even with so many limbs, vampires are not quick to turn - something about the unwavering fixation on blood. A sickening crunch and it impales itself on the pipe, the metal punching through the creature like a B-list science fiction’s analogy of a wormhole.
They stare at each other for too long, not sure what to do. “Running water,” she says, shaking her head. “Running water-“ She panics, not sure of how to keep the vampire stuck on the pipe, before giving up and dragging it along with her. It snarls, spitting and growling, but without the reach or intelligence to pry itself off.
Nobody’s ever tried this before. It should work, but it’s certainly not how any part of this is supposed to. She jams the end of the hose into the pipe, spinning the wheel to turn on the water. For a long, terrible second, they stare at each other, before it starts to flow and the vampire screeches in pain.
It lunges for her, or tries to, but the pipe has suddenly become an immovable object, and the vampire is not an unstoppable force. Running water, the one barrier it can’t cross. “It’s - it’s no maze,” she says, breathing hard, “but…it’ll do.”
“Yeah!” comes Lena’s voice from beside her. “Show that vampire!”
She turns to see the other woman beside her, something clutched in her hand. “Lena - you - you left me to deal with a vampire! I thought you’d run away!”
“You could handle it,” she says with a shrug. “I was just doing what I thought would help the business.”
“What - I’m the business!”
“Might be, yeah, but....” She spins on her heel, and Alex catches a glimpse of what’s in her hand. A camera. “We got one hell of an advertisement.”
Everybody thought artificial intelligence would strive to become human. Nobody knew how they’d hate us.